In the FE workforce data published by the Education and Training Foundation (click here to see the report) it states that “close to two-thirds of FE staff are female” and that this is “higher than in the general UK workforce, but lower than in the school workforce where 80% of staff are female”. So why is this when in so many other areas, female retention and promotion is lower than male?
Benefits of working in FE
One of the best things about working in Further Education is its opportunities for flexibility. As a parent with young children, working part-time and thus having the best of both worlds, is a definite possibility. Also, if your role involves working evenings or flexi-time, then you have time during the day with your children, saving on childcare, especially if you’re other half is there in the evenings. This can not only give you both, or other family members, quality time with the children, but also reduce childcare costs a little. Speaking of childcare costs, most FE employers are involved in one of the childcare vouchers schemes, helping you make your salaries go that little bit further.
Unfortunately, for a lot of women, becoming a mother means that career progression slows or halts due to missed opportunities for promotion or training, or from needing to have reduced or more flexible working hours. This isn’t necessarily the case in FE however as you can continue to work towards new qualifications or through internal programmes even if part-time and with family commitments. You don’t have to miss out on promotion opportunities if you become a parent, as a figure of 55% female senior managers within FE proves.
FE is also a great workplace because its employees come from all sorts of different areas and with different backgrounds, from apprentices to those who’ve moved from industry jobs, from those straight out of university to those who’ve been teaching decades, from admin and technical staff to senior managers and assessors. For the most part, wherever you go in FE, you’ll find friendly, helpful and committed people, doing the best they can for their learners and colleagues. When you’ve got a supportive team of people around you, the stresses and challenges you face are easier to deal with.
The way forward
The data paints a pretty picture in terms of gender equality in the FE workplace but is that the whole story?
Traditionally, only men were tutors and teachers in the grammar schools and universities. Women taught in village schools and girls’ only schools, and governesses were seen as poorly educated in comparison to male tutors. More recently, teaching has been seen as more of a woman’s role, perhaps because of its link to the female nurturing stereotype, with men mainly sticking to the more male-dominated subjects such as maths, the sciences and practical/technical subjects such as resistant materials and graphics. If one looks at the data regarding male and female split due to occupation, the majority of figures are quite equal, except administrative staff, which is predominantly female, and technical staff, which is predominantly male. This means there’s still room for improvement in encouraging more women to take more technical roles through STEM and other work in primary and secondary education.
While the figures show many positives in terms of male and female ratios, it seems the vast majority of people in FE are heterosexual, White British men and women without any disabilities. Thus, the next steps are to take FE, a great workplace for both men and women, and make it into a great workplace for all, regardless of nationality, ethnic minority, sexual orientation and disability status. There has been a lot of work in most recent years in making education ‘inclusive’ for its students, developing action plans, resources and support strategies, and altering buildings or buying new technologies in order to encourage all students to access education at every level and achieve their potential. Perhaps it’s time to extend that to its staff? Wouldn’t it be fantastic to see an education system which is fully inclusive for both its students and its staff, promoting compassion, tolerance and understanding on a daily basis.
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